“Etta, I can’t sleep.” My nickname exhales in a soft, scared whisper from his lips. “Me neither.” I feel grateful that he’s standing next to the bed as I’m tired of lying there, listening to the wind howl like a freight train around the corners of the building. I get up to take him to the living room and open the drapes. Mistake. The sight is scary. We’re living on the second floor of a resort complex on the island of Mauritius. The windows bulge inwards and rattle. Tin roofs are flying around at eye level. Power lines are lying in the road and the once pristine swimming pool is full of debris. Cyclone Dina had just hit the island. It is sweltering. The power is out and we have nowhere to go, so we close the drapes, put on some music to drown out the scary sounds, and to distract the child from fear, we draw smiley faces on balloons for the rest of the night.
Mauritius is a place of beautiful beaches, clear ocean, good diving, amazing people and incredible food. We were blessed to live there for two years and experience this beauty first hand. Our friendships were deep and I could possibly write a book on our Mauritian experiences alone, but the focus is food and people.
We were having dinner one night in our dining room when there was a knock at the door. A sweaty, out of breath young man was standing in the doorway with a bag of sweets in his hands. It was the Indian Festival of Light (Divali) and the tradition was for all the people to come out in front of their houses and cook deep fried sweet treats, bag it and go around to all the other houses and exchange sweets. Kevin had been running for miles, exchanging sweets. The island is poor, yet there is no crime and it is the most peaceful and giving people I have ever come across. We had nothing to exchange with him. “No problem Miss. Come with me.” He dragged us out of our condo and onto the busy streets of the village. Everyone was outside cooking sweets. We took the little bag he gave us and went from family to family, barely able to understand the French Creole and making it work with my broken French and improvised sign language. We socialize and meet new people until the early hours of the morning.
Mauritius is my island in the sun. I miss it and its people and it gives me great pleasure to travel back there through its food. The food of Mauritius is a blend of French, Chinese, Indian and Creole flavors. This combination causes it to be extremely flavorful. There are a lot of tourist resorts on the island and fine dining is in abundance. Our favorites used to be La Domaine Pain in the center of the island. It was an Indian restaurant with utterly incredible cuisine. For pizza, we’d head to the harbor in the catpital of Port Louis at Don Camillo restaurant in the marina. For Chinese, we’d walk to our beach in Flic en Flac to Oceans restaurant. For traditional Mauritian flair, there was the restaurant of Papayo, just around the corner from where we lived. No matter where you ate, there was never salt and pepper on the tables. It was always three little bowls: one with freshly minced garlic in oil, one with fiery minced chili in oil and one with shredded, unsweetened coconut. By the time we left, we got a shock when we got back to regular western civilization and realised how salty the western foods are.
Right in front of our complex used to be a vendor with his own little table with fresh fruit and vegetables. We called him the veggie man. He quickly learned what my favorites were and used to bag them for me and hide it away until I came to get it from him in the afternoons. He also taught me all the French and Creole names for all the fruits and vegetables. Then of course there is the local beer called Phoenix with the slogan: “So Delicious, So Mauritius,” and how very true that used to be. Goodwill rum came in first at a whopping 90% proof and were consumed for free when you bought a boat trip to coconut island, a beautiful uninhabited island great for snorkeling and just lazing about on the gorgeous white sand beaches.
For more on Mauritian culture, go to the foreign lands section of this blog. Recipe will follow later this week.
About a lot of the photos in this blog: They are grainy as they are scanned copies of paper originals. We didn’t have digital in those days!